Congressional reaction to the FAA’s announcement March 22 that it was closing 149 federal contract towers around the country was swift—and negative.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, sent a letter dated March 22 to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressing their disappointment with the administration’s choice to move ahead with the contract tower closings.
In the letter, Thune and Shuster called on LaHood to provide information on how decisions were made to close the towers, including the safety analysis that ensures closing each tower, as well as so many towers at the same time, does not compromise safety; and a detailed justification and explanation for how the FAA determined each contract tower would be closed; and what information was relied upon for each tower on the list.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), whose amendment to preserve the Contract Tower Program as part of the continuing resolution for the federal budget was defeated, called the administration’s decision “short-sighted and dangerous. Closing control towers is equivalent to removing stop lights and stop signs from our roads.”
Moran said that although his amendment to save the control towers and protect public safety was blocked, the fight is not over. “The Contract Tower Program is one of the most efficiently run programs in the FAA, and it should be protected from an arbitrary and unfair 75 percent cut,” he said in a statement. “I have already spoken to the chairperson of the Appropriations Committee to seek out other avenues to protect the 149 control towers slated for closure.”
Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chair of the House Aviation Subcommittee, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the FAA’s decision to close 149 contract towers in the coming weeks despite serious concerns from Congress, the aviation industry, local communities, and the flying public. “I believe FAA has the necessary flexibility to find $50 million in savings from these tower closures elsewhere within their $9.7 billion operations account,” he said. “Given the FAA’s first and most important mission is to ensure aviation safety, it is my expectation that a thorough safety risk assessment has been conducted for each and every proposed tower closures with input considered from airport personnel, the airlines, FAA staff, and other aviation operators.”
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), co-chair of the Senate General Aviation Caucus, called the closings another example of the administration’s attempt to convince people that there is no room for spending cuts in a budget that has increased nearly 20 percent since 2008. “I think we all know better. Secretary LaHood had plenty of time to plan for these reductions, but chose not to.”
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus, said he still believes the FAA could find other areas to cut rather than closing many of the remaining control towers on the list. “Report after report has shown fraud, waste, and abuse in government programs, including at the FAA, which spends $500 million on consultants and $200 million on travel annually. The agency could have started there,” he said. “I find it hard to believe that, when forced to make a five percent cut in its budget, the FAA could not come up with better ideas than threatening to jeopardize public safety by closing towers.”